Monday, March 25, 2013

Dongles and Forks

I'm going to say right up front that I'm not so deep into the tech world that I completely understand this story. However, I get the gist of it and have formed an opinion. Anyone who wants to correct any misperceptions on my part is welcome to comment.

There's a decent summary on Amanda Blum's blog: A female techie attends a conference, is offended by a couple of guys sitting behind her in a lecture making lame dongle jokes, takes a picture of the guys and tweets it resulting in one of the guys losing his job. Then the backlash hits the female techie's company and she gets fired as well.

Now, most guys have no idea how pervasive harassment is in tech circles. They simply don't notice it. But it's there, it's annoying and most techie women fight it when they can and ignore it when they can't. It drives regular women away from techies and technology. It limits how far women can advance in tech circles. It stops girls from pursuing interests in tech. It's a serious problem, really.

This particular techie woman fights it all the time. And this particular time she fought it entirely the wrong way. She basically used a flamethrower to get rid of a gnat and burned down her world. A calm word to the men or taking the picture to the convention organizers would have dealt with the problem. Instead, she posted the picture online and publicly shamed the men.

That said, the online reaction proved there's a long way to go for women in tech. The names the female techie have been called aren't something any decent man would ever use to refer to a woman. The attacks on her company were uncalled for and made her overreaction look like a baby's temper tantrum. Even now you can go to virtually any tech board and find comments on this story that are so sexist you'd think women are less than chattel in our society.

Don't get me wrong. I think the woman is an idiot and deserves to be attacked. It's the nature of the attacks that I find so disturbing.

You see this in other male-dominated arenas. Women cannot win. If they fight it, they are attacked for being too bold. If they don't fight it, they are weak and worthless. Reasonable complaints are routinely ignored, so many women go overboard. And the hits keep coming, women are still constantly harassed and men claim that women just can't take a joke.

I don't know the solution. Fight the stupidity when you see it, but keep calm about it and don't overreact. Don't pull out the flamethrower first thing. Start with the flyswatter, gals. Geek and nerd guys are usually cool and usually can learn. Let them know when they cross the line and most of them will try to improve their behavior. Because when you use that flamethrower, everyone gets burned.


Eric TF Bat said...

Interesting. I'm not entirely sure I'd call her an idiot, or call what she did a flamethrower. She had enough experience with this sort of problem that she knew the men would never address their behaviour if she didn't deal with it straight away, which is why she tweeted the picture straight to the organisers and they came over and had words with the men and settled the matter. I think she was foolish to use Twitter, which is a public forum, instead of email, but then the conference organisers were foolish to offer the public forum as their preferred method of dealing with matters. If they'd promised to monitor an email inbox with the same speed, that would definitely have been the way to go. But they didn't, so she had to use Twitter, and she underestimated how many other people would see the picture.

So far, we're talking poor judgement, not villainy. The major villains, apart from the misogynist morons commenting on all this, were the employers, who basically decided to let mob rule override business ethics. Fortunately, they placed themselves very firmly in the sights of lawyers, and I think it will turn out very lucrative indeed for the sacked employees (or at least for their lawyers). So that's a bid of yummy strawberry icing on the dog turd gateau of their personal story.

Tegan said...

Did PyCon seriously not have another way to report such things? I mean, these are techies. They really should know better.

And I know enough about Twitter to know there should have been a private way to send that picture. So I'm still leaning on the side of overreaction/flamethrower.

I also saw an apology by one of the men online. It was classy. He seriously had no idea he was being offensive. She could have educated him without publicly embarrassing him and the result would have been better for everyone.